US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice sought on Tuesday to expand a "strategic partnership" with Indonesia, including increased military cooperation, after the decision last year to resume military aid that had long been cut off because of Indonesia's poor human rights record.
In a speech yesterday morning, she also sought to assure Indonesia that the US believed strongly in the role of the ASEAN, despite concerns here that the Bush administration had tried to bypass the group and make trade deals with individual members.
The centerpiece of the speech was a defense of the Bush administration's promotion of democracy in troubled regions. Rice said Indonesia had proved it was possible to overcome sectarian and ethnic differences and forge a democratic system.
She also said Indonesia had made progress in combating military corruption.
"A reformed and effective Indonesian military is in the interest of everyone in this region, because threats to our common security have not disappeared," she said.
Rice was well received at her speech, to 500 business, academic and civic leaders at the Indonesia World Affairs Council, but she faced pointed questions about US policies, especially in Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Many in the audience also appeared to feel the US was heavy-handed in its approach to Southeast Asia.
To a questioner demanding to know why the US uses force to get its way, Rice said that it was "rare, very rare, that military power is needed" to bring about change.
On US policies toward Indonesia, she said: "It's not paternalism, it's a partnership."
The session reflected what US officials say is lingering distrust of US intentions. Indonesia, for example, has not backed the US approach to bring Iran to the UN Security Council. Also, Indonesia, and several other nations in the region, oppose the US effort to force a cutoff in ties to Myanmar.
On Tuesday, Rice and the Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda used the phrase "strategic partnership," reflecting US interest in building Indonesia into a major commercial and military power in Southeast Asia, in part to help counter the influence of China.
In the US, the Defense Department has been pressing for a resumption of military aid to Indonesia, which was gradually phased out after Indonesian security forces fired on civilians protesting Indonesian rule in East Timor in 1991. East Timor's vote for independence in 1999 removed a major obstacle to the resumption, but human rights groups have opposed the idea.
Rice stopped in Jakarta on a swing across the Southern Hemisphere that started in Chile, over the weekend. Next she is going to Australia. State Department officials traveling with her said it was important that she underscore Washington's growing ties with Indonesia since the election of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in 2004. The officials said Yudhoyono sought to regain civilian control of the military, attack corruption and improve the climate for US investment.
Another objective of the trip for Rice was to try to reach out to Indonesia's predominantly Muslim population, which is distrustful of US intentions because of the Iraq war and the incarceration of terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
"Sometimes I think there's a lack of understanding of how much the United States respects the people of Islamic faith," Rice said at a news conference with Wirajuda.